Back in the day

At the weekend we were invited by a friend to a local event. It wasn’t clear exactly what the purpose of the event was, but it had a distinctly Napoleonic flavour. The venue was a country house with an attached riding school, where small children in large helmets clutched at the saddles of short fat ponies.

When we arrived there was an evil icy wind blowing and I envied the soldiers their warm uniforms. Then came a shower of exceedingly cold rain, but luckily it was ousted fairly quickly by warm sunshine. It really was a delightful low-key event, old-fashioned and uncommercial, tucked away in a tiny hamlet that you wouldn’t find if you hadn’t expressly been looking for it. There was, naturally, a small tent dispensing red wine in plastic glasses, and some ladies selling biscuits made to an 18th century recipe, while two whole pigs with silver foil folded over their ears were turning on spits over open fires for a feast later in the evening.

There was much marching and drum beating, and a demonstration of decapitation by sabre. The ‘heads’ were plastic bags stuffed with straw, mounted on wooden posts, and the sabres were wielded by galloping horsemen. They were accompanied by a young lad on a pony, and although he had neither a uniform nor a sabre, he proudly galloped around the field to great applause and with a huge smile on his face.

I didn’t see one person with a mobile phone; neither were there any cans of fizzy drinks, and no disco, raffle tickets or fast food. What a pleasant, dreamy afternoon watching families and friends strolling around laughing and chatting. It felt very much like being back in the 1950s.

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#AllAboutFrance

EARLY WARNING

On Sunday 2nd April I’ve been invited ‘into the spotlight’ on the “We Love Memoirs” Facebook page where I will be revealing for THE VERY FIRST TIME the title, cover and publication date for MY NEW BOOK!

If you are a reader and don’t already belong to that page you may like to join it, because whatever your taste you will find something to enjoy. There are hundreds of titles from authors like NYT best-seller Victoria Twead, Joe Cawley, Jacky Donovan, Frank Kusy and Beth Haslem (and me!) and many, many more.

There are memoirs that will lift you up, shake you up, take your breath away, make you laugh and make you cry as authors open the curtains on their lives of adventure, misadventure, survival, laughter and joy, from dog lovers in Dubai to a dominatrix with her own London dungeon.

With almost 4,000 members it is a fun and sometimes rowdy but always super-friendly group, offering frequent giveaways, competitions and opportunities to relate directly with the authors.

I’ll be on-line from 11.00 am local (French) time to chat and answer questions about my books, thermodynamics and the meaning of life.

Click on image to go to the We Love Memoirs Facebook group.

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Suspicious minds

A funny thing happened this week.

I volunteer at a charity shop raising funds for abandoned and abused animals. Mostly I am in the book department, where we have a vast quantity of both hardback and paperback books donated by well-wishers and which are sold for 1 euro each.

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The ‘shop’ isn’t exactly a shop in the conventional sense. It’s a collection of barns and outbuildings selling quality bric-a-brac, furniture, linens, clothing, children’s games and toys, electrical goods, DVDs, CDs and the aforesaid books. There is also a tea shop where shoppers can spoil themselves with the very best of home-baked cakes and pastries.

Anyway, a lady came in on Tuesday and selected a number of books, and when she came to pay I noticed that a couple of them were written by me.

I said to her, “Oh, I hope you’ll enjoy these – I’m the author.”

She stared at me and said, “What?”

“I wrote these two books.” I tapped the covers. She looked at the books and then back at me, and didn’t seem convinced.

She turned her attention to my apparel, which was suited to mid-February in rural France. Fleecy trousers and tops, scarf, boots and woolly gloves all topped off with a red nose.

“Then what are you doing working here,” she asked. “I thought writers were rich.” 😀

Contrast that with what happened many years ago in the Brighton branch of the greatly missed and much-lamented Borders Bookshop, where you could sit and read for as long as you wished on a comfy sofa, and drink coffee and eat cakes, when one of my titles was newly-released and piled up on a table at the front of the shop. The friend I was with walked up to the person behind the counter and said: “This lady is the author of that book – she’ll sign some copies if you like.”

So the man came from behind the counter, found me a chair, and not only did I sign every copy, he found other titles of mine on the shelves and asked me to sign those too.

Without asking for any proof that I was the author!

Looking back I suspect he must have been relatively new or very confident that the books would sell, because bookshops cannot return unsold books to the publisher once they’ve been signed. My agent, the lovely Maggie Noach had told me that. Luckily for that man the title sold well and I don’t recall that there were ever any returns.

Here’s the King, never been equalled.

CHORCHORI

 

 

There is very little I miss about England, apart from a good curry. There are good Vietnamese and Cambodian restaurants here in south-west France, although to me those cuisines lack the unique punch of Indian food. The Indian restaurants we have tried haven’t quite hit the mark; it has felt as if they’ve tinkered with the spices to suit a French clientele whose palate is not accustomed to the powerful flavours of an authentic Indian curry.

Friends returning from a trip to England over Christmas brought me back a supply of mango powder, kaffir lime leaves, curry leaves and nigella, some of the spices essential to making a curry but impossible to find here. Consequently we’ve been having a lot of curries recently to warm us up on these chilly winter days.

Last night I tried a new recipe for a vegetable curry and it was so good, I have to share it. Although it is very simple and uses few spices, the flavour was absolutely gorgeous. It took less than 20 minutes from start to finish.

Cook some vegetables of your choice. I used cauliflower, potatoes, frozen broccoli, green beans and peas, in total about 1.5 kilos. Steam or simmer until vegetables are just tender and the potatoes are soft. Drain them well.

Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large saucepan, and fry ½ teaspoon of mustard seeds and 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds. (You can roast the cumin seeds in a frying pan for a couple of minutes to increase the flavour if you wish.)

When the seeds begin to jump about in the oil, add ½ teaspoon of nigella (onion seed), 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1 red chilli (I didn’t have one so substituted a quarter of a teaspoon of strong chilli powder) and 8 curry leaves.

Reduce the heat and fry gently until the garlic is golden. 

Add the vegetables to the pan with 1 teaspoon of sugar, a good pinch of salt and 150 ml. of plain yoghurt mixed with a teaspoon of cornflour. Stir thoroughly and heat through to serve. 

I replaced the yoghurt with soya cream for a vegan version.

The recipe came from the Curries of the World flipcook book, and is described as a typical example of cooking from the east and north-east of India. It differs from most other recipes I have seen for chorchori, being simpler and using fewer ingredients, but we loved the result. This recipe is a keeper.

I really like this book, the recipes are straightforward and do not require lengthy, complicated techniques (you know what a lazy cook I am!) and they work. I see it’s available used from Amazon.co.uk for as little as 1p.

Tarka dhal tonight.

 

The labyrinth of frustration

Four years after I first posted this, we still correspond regularly and he never fails to make me laugh. Having just emerged victorious from a day-long battle with Three Long Beeps and Four Short Bips I was reminded of how a well-meant remark from me led him into the labyrinth of frustration. 🙂

 

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Susie Kelly - Writer

There’s a man I don’t know who lives somewhere in Florida. Well, when I say I don’t know him, I’ve never met him, but through a mutual struggle with a particular piece of software, we connected on a forum, and have for a couple of months been exchanging emails on a variety of subjects. Mainly photography with a dash of philosophy thrown in, and a soupçon of literature. He’s a very funny man who has a great way with words, and his emails always make me smile. But this one beats the lot, and made me cry real tears of laughter.
He had recommended Vonnegut to me, and I returned the favour by suggesting David Sedaris, whose book “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” is currently producing snorts and chuckles in our household.
Here’s what Mr Florida wrote last night, and it will resonate with anybody who has ever needed to…

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Sometimes a Great Sentence

There are times when I read a phrase or sentence and think “I wish I had written something as inspired as that.”

Today was one of those moments.

This is NOT in any way politically motivated on my part, but simply a tribute to sublime penmanship.

A friend sent me a link to Harper’s Weekly Review, where among many other pithy comments by Sharon J Riley, the following perfectly crafted gem appears:

“I won the popular vote,” said the president-elect, who did not win the popular vote.

Chapeau, Sharon. 🙂

A short shave

*WARNING – NOT FOR THE FAINT-HEARTED, SQUEAMISH OR THOSE OF DELICATE SENSIBILITIES*

Here in France we benefit from excellent medical treatment, and a very caring doctor. It means that we spend a considerable time travelling to various specialists to make sure that everything is in working order, which is most reassuring.

Earlier this week I was scheduled for a minor unpronounceable-in-any-language procedure to check my heart. It involves inserting a small tube into an artery in either the wrist or groin and injecting fluid through it into the arterial system, so that the X-ray machine can see how the heart is behaving.

Providing all goes well, you are in hospital for one night, and come out the following evening, which it was and I did. The procedure itself isn’t painful, but I cannot say the same for what went before, which reached levels of agony beyond my imagination.

Included in the joining instructions confirming time, date, place and a map is a sheet like this, showing a person of indeterminate gender. The green areas on their arms and nether regions have to be silky smooth and free of fur so that there is no hindrance to the intra-arterial invasion. This can be achieved either by using an electric shaver, or depilation cream, but not a razor that could cause a scratch where infection could set in. Ouch.jpg

Examination of my wrists and rump satisfied me that there was no need to give these areas any attention, which just left one to be dealt with.

You undertake this preparation at home the evening before admission, so at midnight I unscrewed the cap of the depilation cream and applied it generously, as the instructions instructed. After waiting the recommended five minutes, I checked to see the result.

Zilch. No change. I applied another thick layer, waited 8 minutes this time. Same result. One further effort of 10 minutes – way beyond the recommended time limit, and no visual change but a burning sensation as if somebody was applying a flame thrower, and an alarming redness. I moved on to wax.

Four applications later despite vigorous wrenching and ripping, the result was not a silky smooth, baby’s bottom effect, but more like an old carpet that was worn around the edges but still good in patches, embellished with tiny ruby red pinpricks of blood. I could barely believe that such pain existed and that all my efforts, creams and waxes had been in vain – I could have wept.

Next day, in the ward, a nurse came to visit. He had a shaven head, tattoos, a nose stud and an earring, and the kindest eyes you will ever see. Was everything OK – was I comfortable, too hot, too cold, thirsty, bed too high, too low, anything he could do for me? He checked my wrists and then asked whether my ‘short’ area was prepared. (I assume this must be a French euphemism). I admitted that despite my best efforts it was less than perfect. No problem, he said, one of the female nurses would sort that out. Shortly she arrived and set to work, remarking that she wasn’t surprised that I had had so much difficulty because she wasn’t finding it easy even with electric clippers.

My neighbour in the two-person room was a tiny, chic lady of 78, who was having the same procedure as me, and I heard the nurse asking her if she had undertaken the necessary gardening. No, she said confidently, because the surgeon could use the artery in her wrist, so there was no need. Hélas, replied the nurse, that isn’t always possible, so we have to make certain you are fully prepared. The poor lady let out a low moan.

Ah oui, hélas Madame, we’re all in it together. 🙂

To those who voluntarily undergo Brazilians – I salute you!